The Effect of Abundance On Your Writing Life

The Effect of Abundance On Your Writing Life

In two days, Americans will celebrate a very different Thanksgiving. In some houses, there will be empty chairs and smaller portions. A few might mask up or sit outside, while in other homes the only sound will be the clink of a single set of silverware against an otherwise empty table.
Many of us have experienced losses in 2020 from loved ones and jobs to relationships, routines, and even our health.  

If you’ve lost someone or something in 2020, I wish you comfort and peace. 

I also hope you have something to be thankful for and that whatever that is, you enjoy it with abandon. 
When the pandemic began, I met with someone we’ll call Betty. I actually met with lots of Betty’s so this story doesn’t belong to just one person. 
When I asked Betty how she was doing, she looked at me sheepishly and said, “My life’s good right now. I can spend time with my kids and try new things. But I feel so guilty I can’t enjoy it.” 
I could relate. 
As someone who’s worked at home for years, the ‘rona barely dented my routine. With less to do, I found myself resting more and cooking new dishes while unemployment and COVID cases skyrocketed.

Who was I to be happy at a time of such suffering?  
Delaying joy and minimizing our blessings are common practices even in the best of times. 
Some of us were raised to watch for the other shoe that’s bound to drop. 
We freeze in the middle of good times waiting for them to end, or we hasten their demise by “dress rehearsing for tragedy,” what Brené Brown calls foreboding joy.  
With foreboding joy, we keep ourselves in a slightly sad, fearful, or grief-stricken state, believing this will make our eventual falls a little less painful. 
That’s not what happens. 
Minimizing joyful times and failing to be grateful squanders the padding we can accumulate around the hard times we all eventually face. When our starting point is mildly miserable, we plunge even lower and hurt even more because we have nothing to cushion our fall.

Stressors like COVID, economic uncertainties, and political disinformation continually nick at the little padding we have left. They can also amplify old messages around foreboding joy. 

But, mutually assured suffering doesn’t solve anything.  

Not convinced? 

Ask yourself the following question. 
If you were drowning, would you rather have someone hop in the water and drown next to you or pull you onto their raft? 
Personally, I’d like access to the raft. 
Practicing gratitude and living abundantly give you the cushion to not just pad your own falls, but to also assist others during their challenging times. Even when you’re not actively helping others, enjoying life gives those around you permission to do the same. 

Living abundantly also makes you more open and creative, something we need now more than ever. 
Even though I related to Betty’s dilemma, I didn’t cave to mutually assured suffering. I enjoyed every happy moment I experienced. When summer brought an unexpected death and a health crisis to my door, the padding I’d accumulated made it easier to weather those experiences. 
So how can you lean into your abundance instead of succumbing to guilt? 

  1. Write down or say out loud what you’re grateful for—not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. Some people say grace before every meal. I say one gratitude. 
  2. Pay attention to your thoughts. If you notice you’re “dress rehearsing for tragedy,” pause. then pay attention to your surroundings. Focus on a physical sensation like the feel of the air against your skin. Once you’re completely present, name one thing that’s going well. 
  3. If you have extra—be that time, talent, or treasure—give some away.  This could include donating to a cause, running errands for a neighbor, or sharing a skill with a family member or friend. 

This year, I have a lot to be grateful for. 
My health returned. I have an amazing job and an incredible writing community. During the hardest of times, my family has been supported. 
In the month of December, I am celebrating my blessings by doing weekly #GiveawayForGood challenges. 
Each week, I’ll share a new challenge.
Respond to the challenge and you’ll receive one (or more) tickets for my weekly drawings which will include prizes like $50 gift cards to New Dominion Bookshop, a box of author-signed books released in 2020 ($100 value), and a grand prize drawing of a one-hour coaching session with me that includes a 10-page manuscript review ($250 value). 
My goal is to see how much good we can do for our literary community and those who are currently struggling. 
Participating in my #GiveawayForGood challenges will help you live more abundantly. 

Some of you might end up with a few extra end-of-year gifts, courtesy of me. 
Look for challenge number one in next week’s newsletter
In the meantime be welll, and wherever you are, may you always find ways to be thankful.

The Big O Versus The Broken Record: Eight Tips for Handling Negative Comparison

The Big O Versus The Broken Record: Eight Tips for Handling Negative Comparison

In 2000, one of my short stories was a finalist in a writing competition that included entries from five universities in the Louisville metro area. 
Two hundred people attended the ceremony. Sweat ringed my underarms as the emcee rambled on about honor this and the hard work that. 

My butt cheeks hovered just above my seat, waiting, just waiting, for her to say my name
The emcee sliced open an envelope, Emmy Award style.
 And then . . . 
A guy named Justin won. 

Deflated, I slumped back in my chair and listened to the winning story, which was quirky, funny, and way better than mine. 
While I couldn’t yet articulate why Justin’s story worked, I knew he deserved the award. 
At the end of the ceremony, I congratulated him. We soon became friends. In future writing classes, I paid attention to his comments and studied his stories, hoping to channel some of his talent into my work. 
Flash forward to last week. 
I’m scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Slack, trying to catch up with friends. In the course of thirty minutes, I learn that one friend had signed with a new agent. Another got a book deal. A third person published in the New York Times yet again. 
I was overjoyed.
I genuinely like to see other people succeed.

And yet, there’s this human part of me that gets really small when I’m working in the trenches while others are basking in the publishing glory I’m working toward. 
As I shared my heartfelt congratulations, a small, nasty voice whispered in my ear. “Where’s your good news, Lisa?” 

That rat bastard Comparison was squatting in my head. 

There are actually two forms of comparison. 
The first, I call The Big O after the iconic When Harry Met Sally scene where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in the middle of a New York Deli. At the end of Meg’s big O performance, a customer says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”  
After hearing Justin’s story, I wanted what he had, and I humbly worked for it. 
Big O moments of comparison are essential to our growth. 
They motivate us to work toward our goals.  
But the second form of comparison is a creativity killer I call The Broken Record. 
We get stuck in Broken Record comparisons when another person’s success triggers feelings of inadequacy inside us.  When this happens, we cycle through old messages we’ve received from caregivers, teachers, and others about not being good enough.
The Broken Record isn’t new. 
People have always turned green with envy when someone else succeeds.  
Over the past fifteen years, we’ve spent more and more time on social media interacting with the highlights of our virtual friends. 
It’s easy to distort reality when looking at a carefully curated life that seems exciting, easy, and victorious. We can feel a deep sense of separation and wonder why we can’t get our shit together and do EVERYTHING like the bright, happy, successful people we see online. 
2020 has pushed us deeper into this virtual world, upping those comparisons to eleven. 
All it takes is one Broken Record to rip your self-worth and creativity to shreds. 
While it might be impossible to completely avoid Comparison’s ugly chatter, there are things you can do about it.

  1. Set clear goals and milestones. When Comparison speaks, see if you’re holding yourself accountable to your goals. If you’re meeting milestones, great. If not, consider what support you need to get back on track.
  2. Limit your time on social media. The more time you spend scrolling, the more your virtual friends’ highlights can affect you. Instead of scrolling aimlessly, set time limits. If you really want to connect, schedule a Zoom date, socially distanced walk, have a text session, or call someone. 
  3. Scroll with a plan. If you’re using social media to build your author’s platform, engage authentically with other writers. Lift up authors you love by applauding their work or commenting on something they’ve posted. Share a skill you’ve developed or a resource that’s been invaluable. Ask a burning question. 
  4. Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re bombarded with too much good news. Half the battle with Comparison is noticing when it’s happening. Write down the messages rattling around in your head. Pay attention to where you feel Comparison in your body. For me, my shoulder blades squeeze together. The better you are at recognizing Comparison, the easier it is to address it. 
  5. Envision your success. Before every writing session, close your eyes and imagine one successful moment—an email acceptance of your work, holding your book, or giving a reading. Imagine this moment using all of your senses. Every time The Broken Record plays its sad song, pause, then say, “Hello, Comparison.” Immediately do your envisioning exercise. 
  6. Art has its own timeline. Put your hand over your heart and say to yourself, “I am on time, and my projects are on time.”  If you’re showing up, you’re on time. This is the only truth you need to lean into. 
  7. Turn your Broken Record into a Big O. Whenever another person’s success takes a bite out of your ego, feel your feels then humbly ask yourself whether this person has something you’d like to order. Get curious about the skills they’ve developed, strategies they’ve used to promote themselves, or the story they’re trying to tell. Recognize that while you might be seeing their highlights, they’ve also struggled. 

Last week, I listened to a Brené Brown’s interview with Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. Her message of radical self-love was the perfect antidote to the Comparison I was feeling. 

Here are a couple of her quotes: 
“When our personal value is dependent on the lesser value of other bodies, radical self-love is unachievable.” 

We currently live in a society that’s set up like a ladder. Our number one goal is to sit on the top rung.  On the ladder, someone’s always above us while someone else is on a lower rung. 
Comparison is the ladder. 
But that’s an illusion. In reality, walking on the same track. 
“When we liberate ourselves from the expectation that we must have all things figured out, we enter a sanctuary of empathy.” 
Hop off the ladder and recognize that together we can all achieve our goals. 
There’s one final way to handle Comparison, and that’s the big G—gratitude.

Last week, after I practiced some radical self-love, I thought about all the fantastic news I’d received. 
There was a time in my life when I would’ve given anything to know just one successful writer who landed an agent, earned a book deal, or published in the New York Times. 
Now, these people are my friends. 
If there was a waitress in front of me, I’d say, “I’ll have what they’re having.” 
How fortunate, that these generous, amazing people are showing me what’s possible. 
So, where do you feel Comparison in your body? 
Have you considered what you’d like to see on the menu? 
Who do you know who has it? 
How can you emulate it? 
How can you offer the very best of yourself to the world? 

Send me your answer, then keep writing. Your stories matter.

You never know which one will pave the way for someone else. 

Three ways busyness and productivity derail our writing lives.

Three ways busyness and productivity derail our writing lives.

Last Tuesday, I made a pact with myself. No social media, election news, or election talk for twenty-four hours. I was taking a much-needed vacation and wanted one more day of serenity before returning to the world.
Holy Schnikes was that difficult!
My only solution to the election chatter swirling through my head was to stay active. Meditate. Go for walks. Listen to podcasts. Count ocean waves. Read. Write. Cook. Eat too many cookies.

I kept my pact until 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. 
The exercise gave me an opportunity to connect with my personal kryptonite: being productive.
As a kid, staying busy made me feel safe. With a packed schedule, I didn’t have time to grieve my parents’ divorce, worry about the bully next door, or wonder if anyone liked me. A constant stream of activity—school, projects, play—smothered my anxiety and masked my depression. 
And, I was handsomely rewarded for my efforts. 
At school, I received gold stars, A-pluses, and compliments. At work, people said things like, “She’s such a great multitasker,” and “Look at all she’s accomplished.” 
Swamped and overbooked, my ego beamed with what felt like my inner goodness.  
Over time, busyness became a drug I mainlined to keep from feeling anything uncomfortable. 
Staying occupied during times of uncertainty is a healthy way to manage stress and anxiety
Problems occur when we overschedule and overinvest in productivity as a way to avoid painful feelings. Addicted to gold stars and compliments, we begin to value ourselves as human doings rather than human beings This can lead us to minimize life-enhancing activities like writing. 
If becoming a human doing is your go-to when the world amps up its chatter, don’t beat yourself up. 
According to Celeste Headlee, author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe productivity makes us good. 
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” 
“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” 
“Just do it.” 
As writers, an overreliance on productivity can create three creativity-derailing traps. 
The “Being Needed” Trap
We only feel valuable when we’re busy, and preferably doing things for others. 
Writers who fall into this trap trade writing time for work projects or caring for others, believing these activities are more valuable than our heart’s desires.
These choices are largely unconscious. Writers just know they can’t find time for their writing lives and nothing creative seems to get done. 
We get stuck in this pattern when we don’t feel good about ourselves. Busyness becomes a way to not just keep negative feelings at bay, but to justify our very existence. 
Here’s the truth. 
You don’t need to do anything to be good enough. 
You’re already amazing just as you are.
Failing to set healthy boundaries or practice self-care teaches others they don’t deserve to do these things. This can perpetuate feelings of low self-worth in everyone. 
 Here’s the solution: Do less all the time, and sometimes do nothing at all. 

  1. Take a few moments to complete my bandwidth check. 
  2. Once you understand your bandwidth, write your to-do list. Include everything from eating breakfast, sleeping, and work to watching Netflix, and helping kids with homework. Rate every item as “need to do” or “nice to do.” Make sure meals, exercise, rest, and writing are on your “need to do” listSchedule all of your “need to do” items on your calendar. Add in a few “nice to dos” if you have extra time. At least once per week, eliminate one “need to do” item from your calendar.
  3. Spend fifteen minutes per day doing an unproductive activity like staring at a wall or watching the clouds go by. Once you’ve done this for several days, notice how you feel. 

On Election Day, I listened to Brené Brown’s interview Glennon Doyle about her new book Untamed. Glennon had this to say about setting boundaries: Good boundaries are a drawbridge to self-respect.” 
Create your drawbridge, <<First Name>>, by understanding your bandwidth and then taking care of yourself. 

The Closed Heart Trap
To write well, you have to channel your characters’ thoughts and feelings. To do this, you need full access to your own thoughts and feelings. 
Busyness is an effective anxiety buster because it keeps you from feeling too much.
While this isn’t always a bad thing, it creates distance between you and your emotions. 
Writers stuck in this trap might show up to their writing desks, but they can’t connect with their characters. The writing loses its passion. Projects get shelved. 
Here’s the solution: Slow the eff down and feel your feels.

  1. When you wake up, delay checking your phone for at least fifteen minutes. Spend that time doing a mini bandwidth check and consider your self-care needs. 
  2. Schedule time for gratitude.
  3. Allow yourself a certain amount of time each day to feel something uncomfortable. 
  4. Develop a mindfulness practice

 In the same podcast, Glennon Doyle said, All feelings are for feeling. Feeling is hard, but what’s worse is missing it all.”
Life is precious. Don’t miss a thing—including your writing life. 

The Productivity Versus Process Trap 
I see this happen all the time. A writer finally makes time to writeTheir mind laser focuses on getting IT done. IT might be a poem, short story, essay, or book-length manuscript. But not only must IT get done, the most kickass version of IT must get published. 
These writers only see themselves as “official” writers when they’re making lightning-fast progress. Feedback becomes not just a hassle, but a sign of failure. The goal is to get IT done and then get THE NEXT IT done, because real writers are prolific, well paid, and published. 
When you value productivity over the process, here’s what happens:

  • Perfectionism, that asshole part of your inner critic, shouts in your ear. 
  • You feel every tick of the clock because unless you’re zipping through this project, you’re wasting your time. 
  • All that pressure jams up your ideas and closes down your heart. Hello, writer’s block. 

There’s nothing wrong with trying to finish a project or wanting to do it well. But art has its own timetable. Completing a successful project might take months, years, or even decades. 
Do you want to spend all that time rushing around or feeling miserable?  
A constant focus on productivity will kill your creativity. You’re more likely to scrap worthwhile projects, see yourself as a failure, or force subpar work into the world just to satisfy your ego. 
Ironically, all that pressure can make your projects taken even longer. 
Here’s your solution: Find joy in the process

  1. Set up a writing date with a group of fellow writers. After some writing time, share what you’ve created. If you want to offer feedback, just say what’s going well. 
  2. Create a gratitude journal just for your writing process. In your gratitude journal, record your creative wins and how you feel after completing a writing session. 
  3. Write pieces that are just for fun then let them go. 

Here’s a final bit of advice from Glennon’s interview. “There is no such thing as one-way liberation. When we liberate ourselves, we give others permission to liberate themselves.”
We might have been conditioned to believe that busyness is synonymous with goodness, or that boundaries make us selfish, but we don’t have to remain caged. 
Liberate yourself from the traps of busyness, so that you can show others the way out. 

Have you checked your bandwidth lately?

Have you checked your bandwidth lately?

Holy smokes, Election Day has arrived! 
For the past eleven months, we’ve been told this is the most important election of our lifetimes. For many of us, the outcome feels crucial. It arrives after almost six years of campaigns, town halls, debates, and endless pontification.  
I voted at 8:47 a.m. on Thursday, October 1, 2020, after a thirty-minute wait in line. Two weeks ago, I helped my father confirm that his mail-in ballot was received by his polling location.
If you haven’t voted, step away from your computer and get thee to your polling place! 
If you mailed in your ballot, confirm that it was received.  
Once your civic duty is complete, do a little happy dance.
Next, journal about your experience.
Include the taste of the air, the feel of angst on your skin, and anything else that strikes you as important. Even if the election is uneventful, your entry might serve as a future project. 
Then do me a favor.

Step away from the news, at least for a few hours. 
I’m spending election day in quiet contemplation, far, far, far away from social media. 
I’ll read a good book, do a little writing, and praypraypray for the good of our country. 
The ramp up to the election has been filled with dire predictions about who will win and what will happen to our democracy. This chatter is on top of news about spiking COVID cases, Supreme Court confirmations, the death of more unarmed black men, downturns in the stockmarket, hurricanes and wildfires, and the list goes on. 
It’s likely the news cycle will crank that distracting noise up to eleven in the coming days and months. 
To help you stay centered, I’m going to talk about practical ways you can silence the chatter that plagues writers most. 
Before we begin, let’s do a quick bandwidth check. 
Imagine you’re a radio station emitting a very specific signal. Right now, some of your signals might be so strong I’d hear them a few miles off. Others might be so weak they barely leave your neighborhood. 
To check your bandwidth, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are my current responsibilities? Which ones are new to 2020? 
2. What community-wide problems are affecting me?
3. What personal obstacles or challenges am I facing?
4. How emotionally intense or draining are my days?
5. How does my current situation impact my commitment to my writing life?
6. Where am I getting support?
7. Does that support feel like it’s enough?

Once you have your answers, pause and take a few deep breaths.  
While we all have a 2020 story to tell, right now, yours is the one that matters. 
Get clear about what this year has been like for you, then give yourself a big hug.
Now, get out a piece of paper and draw your radio station. 
Mine looks like a simple rectangle topped with a long skinny triangle for the antennae. 
Next, draw a circle around your antennae that matches the size of your bandwidth. 

If the circle is small, you need more self-care. 
If your circle is in the Goldilocks range where you have enough to take care of yourself but not enough to spare, take a few minutes to be grateful. That alone is a huge 2020 win. 
If your circle is wide, spread the love by finding opportunities to be of service. 
I have no idea what the days and weeks ahead will bring, but I feel confident we will get through this. 
But for now, as we weather this momentous transition, take excellent care of yourself and everyone you know.

Be a source of love and light in this world.

Have faith that good things are just around the corner. 
Keep writing, and know that I’m cheering you on. 

How Invoking Your Muse Can Help You Beat Resistance

How Invoking Your Muse Can Help You Beat Resistance

During the 2020 James River Writers Conference, I had the pleasure of serving on a panel with acclaimed writer Victoria Christopher Murray. Victoria is the Essence bestselling author of over twenty novels. She makes her living as a full-time writer, and after listening to her speak, it’s clear she’s a pro

When asked for some parting advice at the tail-end of our session, she said, “Even after writing close to thirty books, I’m still afraid every time I start a new project. Fear is always the starting point. My job is to find a way to move beyond it.” 

The day after the conference, I reconnected with my manuscript. Like Victoria, I too wrestle with fear—fear that I can’t do it, fear that it will never get done, fear that it won’t be good enough. I could go on. This happens every time I start a new draft. 

So how do you move beyond the fear Resistance elicits? 

Steven Pressfield says our first job is to invoke the Muse. It doesn’t matter what you identify as your muse, be it highest self, angels, the unconscious, Greek goddesses, or even your cat. The point is to recognize that our best work comes from a higher plane that is available to all of us. 

In The War of Art, Pressfield invokes the Muse with a snippet of the Odyssey he reads out loud before every writing session. If you buy his book, you can find the passage on page 119. I’ve decided to invoke my Muse by reciting the artist’s prayer I wrote during a three-month Artist’s Way group I attended earlier this year. This personal prayer acknowledges what Julia Cameron, Steven Pressfield, Elizabeth Gilbert, and so many others also believe. 

Our creative gifts were bestowed upon us for a reason. 

Our job is simply to show up and answer the call.  

Once you invoke your muse, get out of your own way. Stop worrying about whether your writing is good enough. Instead, write because it makes you feel more alive, and maybe even makes you a better person. Pay attention to the messages that arrive when you’re not writing—the new idea during dinner, the insightful revision you come up with while walking, the solution to your plot problem that arrives in a dream. Carry a notebook with you to record them as they happen. 

Pressfield says, “This process of self-revision and self-correction is so common we don’t even notice. But it’s a miracle.” It’s evidence that your Muse is talking to you. 

As you make friends with your Muse, forgo hierarchical thinking, which tries to see where you fit within a pecking order. Pressfield says hierarchy is the realm of Ego, that small self that believes in limitation and comparison. Out in the world, the Ego competes, people pleases, and seeks instant gratification.

 Instead, operate from your Highest Self—the part of you that includes the Ego as well as the collective unconscious. 

The Ego believes we’re separated. 

The Self knows we’re all in this together. 

From the place of Self, you can wrestle with the greatest fear we all have: the fear that we’ll actually succeed

As you work to succeed, stake out a territory in your writing life. 

Pressfield says territory is both an external place where the work gets done and a psychological space where we sustain ourselves without any external input. It’s a place where we claim and then do the work. 

 For me, territory is both the desk where I work and the intention I create for every project. In drafts one through three of the memoir about my brother’s death and the subsequent heavy-metal tour I traveled with, my intention was to forgive first myself and then my former husband. As I near the finish line, my intention is to provide solace to the countless survivors of suicide loss out there, and perhaps further the conversation around why people die by suicide and how we can have more compassion for them. I also hope to take you on one hell of an adventure.  

Pressfield’s final bit of advice is a reminder: we are in charge of the labor, but not its fruits. “We must do the work for its own sake, not for fortune, attention, or applause.”  

This advice reminds me of a Zen proverb: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

For the writer, chopping wood is writing. Carrying water is revision. We do this for each and every project. 

For me, that means working to create the best damn book I can. I’ll rewrite anything that isn’t clear, beautify sentences, and muster as much compassion as I can for all of my characters. I’ll comfort the survivor of suicide loss who still misses her brother, and remind her why this story is important. Telling her story well is what I can offer the reader. It’s why I roll up my sleeves every single day. 

What will come of this? 

I will write this book. I will work to get this into the world. 

And regardless of the outcome, I will write another. 

How do you invoke your muse, <<First Name>>? 

What does your creative territory look like? 

Send me your strategies and I’ll share them in an upcoming newsletter. 

Are you still playing in the amateur league?

Are you still playing in the amateur league?

I remember the exact moment when I decided to go pro. It was January 5, 2013. I’d spent the last five months battling Lyme disease, which meant nightly fevers and flu-like symptoms that were accompanied by chills that purpled my skin. Every morning when I woke up, I wondered how I’d go on. 

When this hopeless funk showed no sign of letting up, I googled mindfulness and writing, and quickly discovered UVA was offering a mindful writing course. Without hesitation, I signed up. Then I told my husband to make me attend these sessions no matter how I felt.

The mindful writing class met on Mondays from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM. I worked from 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM every weekday. A night class felt like a stretch, and yet my soul knew writing was essential to my recovery. 

So, every Monday at 6:30 PM, my husband kicked me out of the door. The class revolutionized my writing career and I’ve been writing consistently ever since.  

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “Resistance hates it when we turn pro, because pros beat Resistance at its own game.”

In part two of his book, he shares the differences between amateurs and pros. 

Amateurs play from the sidelines and are often sidelined by disappointments and problems. Terrified of failure and driven by the whims of ego, they are Resistance’s favorite afternoon snack. 

Professionals understand the difference between what is urgent and important. They do what’s important first, and that means making time to write. 

“This edict doesn’t mean that our work is necessarily crucial to the survival of the planet,” but it acknowledges that this work might be important to the development of the soul. Attend to these soul callings and we bring our best to all situations. Ignore them, and we get crunchy and irritable.  

To become a pro, you have to develop what George Saunders calls a blue-collar work ethic about writing. He likens the job of writer to the job of a truck driver. In an interview I saw several years ago he asked, “Would a truck driver show up to work only on the days when feels inspired? No, he shows up because otherwise, he’ll get canned.” 

Pressfield agrees with Saunders and says, “The muse appreciates working stiffs.” Here’s a list of what he says we do for our jobs. 

  • We show up every day.
  • We show up no matter what.
  • We stay on the job all day.
  • We are committed over the long haul.
  • The stakes for us are real and high. For a job, this might mean survival, like feeding the family, but in the realm of creativity, it’s about offering the world your gifts. And, as Marie Forleo is fond of saying, “When you fail to share your gifts, you’re stealing from the world.”
  • We do not over-identify with our jobs. We understand that this is just one part of who we are and that while we may see a job as our avocation, we understand that failure is an important part of this process. To fail at an attempt does not make you a failure.
  • We master the technique of our jobs.
  • We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  • We receive praise and blame in the real world. 

Before 2013, I played in the amateur league. I hadn’t yet developed those blue-collar writing values, or the patience Pressfield says is essential. Professionals must “not only give the stars time to align his career but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work.”

Between the day I turned 8 (1982) and that moment in 2013, I had written intensely for months or a few years at a time, only to exhaust myself or get discouraged by setbacks or lackluster feedback on my attempts. 

Since 2013, my writing life has been as steady as a river. Writing dates appear in my calendar. I show up no matter what. I work my tail off to perfect my craft. I approached my writing life like a pro. 

But here’s the day when I actually turned pro.

Between 2014 and 2017, I worked on my first memoir. That effort included writing dates, taking classes, attending conferences, readreadreading memoirs, craft books, and novels. I even hired an editor and writing coach. Between mid December of 2017 and early February 2018, I sent my book to ten agents, absolutely certain that I had written a kickass book. 

Five agents asked for more pages. Two read the full manuscript. Just to get that far is a victory and a fantastic sign.

Here’s what happened. 

Agent One: “You’re a fabulous writer, and I love your style, but this isn’t going to sell.” OUCH!

The agent’s news was filled with gentleness and respect for me and my work. Still, I gave the above line a one-finger salute and then clung to what I was certain would be the Y.E.S. I had been working toward.

Agent Two’s feedback arrived on the day before my 44th birthday. I was in Hawaii, celebrating both my birthday and my tenth wedding anniversary. It was around seven in the morning, Hawaii time. We were eating breakfast after watching the sunrise at 13,000 feet on top of Haleakala volcano. I was exhausted and still jetlagged. Why I chose that moment to check my email is beyond me. When I saw Agent Two’s name in my inbox, I couldn’t unsee it. 

Part of me said, “Wait until you’re home.”  But how could I not celebrate my Y.E.S. in paradise? 

Here’s what Agent Two said. “There are so many great things in this manuscript, but something’s still missing. I’m happy to read a complete revision of the manuscript if you figure the problem out.” 

Boom. There it was. A big fat no. 

It often takes between 60 – 100 agent queries to actually get a yes, and I’d only queried 10. Conventional wisdom would dictate that I just keep trying. 

Except that after I licked my wounds, my gut knew these highly regarded agents were right. 

I hadn’t yet earned a yes. Because this project was mine, I couldn’t tell where the problem was. So, I asked for help, which Pressfield said is one of the things that separates an amateur from a professional. 

I applied for a conference that included a full manuscript evaluation, workshops with highly skilled peers from around the country, and masterclasses that might give me some insight into my manuscript’s problems. 

While I waited for feedback, I started my book about the heavy metal tour I was on shortly after my brother’s death. After all, I was a working stiff writer who still needed to show up. 

Over time, I came to understand and agree with those agents. The knowledge I gained is what will make the project about my brother and that heavy-metal tour successful. 

How do I know that day in Hawaii was the moment I became a pro?

I didn’t quit even though those rejections stung. 

I remained humble enough to listen to feedback and ask for help. 

I learned from the experience. 

I never stopped showing up. 

Two years after that rejection, I now know that my first memoir was essential writing for me, but not necessarily essential reading for everyone else. A few scenes ended up in my new manuscript. Others might appear in an essay or another memoir. Until I know, I’ll keep showing up.  

So, what writing league are you playing in, <<First Name>>? 

Which of Pressfield’s working-stiff attributes are easy for you to follow? 

Which ones are difficult? 

If you’re still in the amateur league, what’s keeping you there? 

What will help you take your writing life over that hurdle? 

Why Resistance is plaguing your most important writing projects

Why Resistance is plaguing your most important writing projects

Last week, I met with the last of the three beta readers who read my memoir. Here’s the unanimous verdict: the narrative arc is strong. 
Cue the balloon drop, pop of a champagne cork, and happy dance that will probably overstretch something in my hips. 
For those of you who might not know, the narrative arc is the backbone of any story regardless of genre. In memoir, it reveals how the narrator transforms. And, friends, it’s fucking hard to nail the narrative arc. Many a book has crumbled without one. 
I’ll spend the next three months tightening, tweaking, and beautifying every last sentence for January submissions to interested agents. 
As I crack my knuckles in preparation for the work ahead, let me introduce you to my little friend, Resistance. 
According to Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, Resistance is the insidious, implacable, invisible voice within all of us that does its best to maintain the status quo. While it can show up at any time, it’s more likely to drop by when we’re following a call from the soul. Pressfield says, “The more important an enterprise is to the growth of our soul the more Resistance will harass us.” 
It tends to be most vocal when we’re in the last leg of any project, because Resistance hates a finisher.  
Resistance tells us tomorrow is a better time to start.
Or, that we need to completely heal before we can truly begin.
It helps us pencil in all of the tasks, duties, and work that will eat up our writing time. 
Resistance is often the reason we pop Cheetos, guzzle wine, or scarf down cake instead of sitting at our desks. Sometimes, it’s the reason we get sick, gossip about others, enter unhealthy relationships, or create dramas of self-sabotage that burn through our creativity.  

At first, Resistance feels like “a low-grade misery” that’s bored, restless, and never satisfied. There’s a guilt we can’t put our finger on. As it wears on, we become disgusted and hate ourselves and our lives. 
But don’t take any of this personally. Pressfield says, “Resistance is a force of nature that acts objectively like the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as the stars.” 
Fear is Resistance’s favorite snack. The tastiest bites are made of the deepest questions we ask ourselves during the writing process. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?
But fear is not the enemy. Pressfield says, “The more scared we are of a work or a calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
So, you might be asking, Lisa, are you scared? 
Fuck yeah, I am. 

While I’ve been actively writing this book for a little over two years, it’s twenty-three years in the making. During those twenty-three years, other projects have fizzled out. 
For those you who might not know my story, this memoir is about how a chance meeting during a heavy-metal tour helped me survive my brother’s suicide.

Some parts of this book were incredibly fun to write, like all the scenes with Klaus, our quirky bus driver and road guru. But writing other parts felt like pressing a finger full of salt into my heart. It’s easy to show you the fun parts, but do I really want the world to see the inner workings of my heart? 
I fear that I haven’t yet been brave enough in scenes. 

I fear that my art won’t be good enough. 
I fear that once I send this off, I’ll lose control of the project, because while a published book has the author’s name on it, it’s no longer her story. It now belongs to the reader. 
For the next month, I’m going to wrestle with my Resistance as a part of my latest newsletter series. Steven Pressfield’s insightful, quick-reading book will serve as my guide.
Buy the book and join me on this odyssey while you’re experimenting with asking “why not me” about your writing projects.
Are you ready to wrestle together, <<First Name>>?  What does your resistance look like? Email me the answer. 
Or, better yet, tweet it to me with the hashtag #thecolorofmyresistance  

One Simple Way to Inspire the Next Generation of Writers

One Simple Way to Inspire the Next Generation of Writers

I was walking into the living room when my husband said, “Holy shit, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is dead.” 
The news hit me so hard I fell into a nearby wall. 
The notorious RBG was the

  • champion of equality who flipped the system on its head, 
  • the tiny and mighty example that glass ceilings are meant to be shattered,
  • a Supreme Court titan who answered her calling until the very end of her life. 

She inspired me to tame my imposter syndrome and live up to my ideals.
Part of me believed Justice Ginsberg would live forever. 
Sadly, she didn’t.
And now our country will reckon with the questions arising from her absence. 
On Sunday as I reflected on Justice Ginsburg’s role in my life, I watched a video interview with six high school students I met through a local spiritual center. The teens sat on an outdoor labyrinth and talked honestly about their lives during COVID-19. 
Amidst the fidgeting and nervous laughter were honest reflections on their fears of not being taken seriously, the struggle to set boundaries when not everyone holds the same beliefs, and the difficulty of spending so much time alone. 
 One young woman said, “Now that all my activities have come to a screeching halt, I don’t know who I am. Every dark feeling I’ve ever had screams in my ears.” She went on to talk about how silence amplifies our unworthiness. 
Determined not to live small lives, these teens used creativity and meditation to quiet their inner chatter. 
They were so wise, and yet they also clearly expressed how badly they needed all of us. 
While they said time and attention are great, what they really need is for us to show them what’s possible by living up to our potential.  
Right now, someone younger or newer to your field is struggling with their inner imposter. You have the power to help them see beyond their perceived limitations. 
This doesn’t require you to become the next RBG. 

Sometimes, what you do at your lowest point is what counts. 
In February of 2014, I quit my job as a mental health counselor for two equally important reasons. After a two-year struggle with Lyme disease, I was too sick to work. While making this decision, I realized that fifteen years of ignoring my writing dreams hadn’t given me the life I wanted. It was time to answer the call.  

For the next few weeks, I walked a trail near my townhouse and wondered what the hell I was doing. 
At the end of one of those walks, I met a new neighbor. After a few pleasantries, he asked the question I dreaded most. “What do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” I replied, forcing a smile.

 “Oh, how fascinating,” he said. “What books have you published?”
“Well none,” I said. “But I’m currently writing one.”
“Good luck with that.”  He smiled skeptically in my direction then walked away. 
I shuffled home as my inner imposter laughed at me. “Hey loser, did you see that smile?” 
I nodded, wiped away a tear, and thought about quitting.
The next day, I wrote the first chapter of a book. 

Every day after that I wrote again. 
Two years later, my former clinical supervisor asked me to tea. During our visit, she told me that watching me following my dreams had inspired her to take a one-year leave from her job. She planned to attend an intensive meditation retreat she called her personal Eat, Pray, Love adventure. 
A little while after that, a friend told me she was writing a book. 
Someone else started a business after watching mine grow. 
Seeds were planted that I could never have imagined in 2014.
This isn’t some magic, good-luck story. This is what happens when you show others that our dreams are important and possible. 
You see, life isn’t all about you. 
In pursuing your dreams, you give others permission to do the same. 
During the month of October, consider this experiment
Every time you encounter an opportunity to pursue your dreams, instead of asking “Why on earth should it be me,” ask “Why shouldn’t it be me?” Then act accordingly. 

When collecting data, don’t just pay attention to how you feel. Notice what others do because you’ve answered this call. 

At the end of the month, send me your findings. 

Or better yet, Tweet me your response with the hashtag #experimentsingreatness.

The F Word Every Writer Fears Most

The F Word Every Writer Fears Most

In my late twenties, I spent two years trying to turn my dream of earning an MFA in poetry into a reality. I attended graduate-level writing courses, workshopped my portfolio, and wrote teaching manifestos.
In March of 2000, I received an acceptance letter that included a free ride and the chance to teach college writing classes. The Dream had arrived. 
Looking at that letter, I believed hell yes was the only acceptable response. 
But as soon as I said yes, a still, small voice inside me screamed, “No!” The next seven nights were sleepless. Fearing I would puke, I skipped almost every meal. Every part of my body said, “Don’t do it.”
But how could I say no to The Dream? 
Certain this was just my imposter acting up, I drafted a resignation letter for my job and planned my cross country move. Three days later, I fielded calls from the program director about possible funding opportunities. I should’ve been so happy. 
But that little voice wouldn’t shut up. 
A week after my acceptance, I called to say I’d made a mistake. 
The director accused me of stealing another writer’s dream. His finishing move was a brief pause followed by “We thought you had so much promise.” (What I heard: I’m so disappointed in you.)

Holy guilt-storm, Batman! I was beyond crushed. 
Someone had expressed what I’d always secretly known: I was a failure with absolutely no promise. 
Certain I’d blown my one and only chance at The Dream, I stopped writing for almost two years.

When my stories refused to give up on me, I dusted off my ego and wrote a novel. Three drafts in, that project fizzled out. 
Hello, failure number two. 
Failure is the F word many of us fear most. Seeing mistakes as our worst nightmare, we trade perfection on the small stage for potential greatness. When meager attempts fail, we call ourselves bad eggs and smash our fragile egos into the wall. 

We equate mistakes with sins, and friends, we all know where sinners are headed.
Did you know the original definition of sin is to miss the mark? 
When we make a mistake, we are simply missing the mark.

And, in a writing life, every miss is an invaluable gift. 

Every draft that doesn’t work is an opportunity to get clearer about your story.

Every critique that hurts in an opportunity to make friends with your ego.

Every rejection is an opportunity to find the right home for your work.
For a long time, I was blind to these opportunities. Instead, I lived from the hell of my perceived shortcomings. 
A few years ago, I decided to see my life, and especially my writing life, in a new way. Instead of seeing outcomes as good or bad, I view everything as a grand experiment.
Writing a draft, querying an agent, and proposing a session for a conference, are all just experiments. The outcomes are simply data that tell me whether or not I missed the mark.

Some of those misses are the reason I’ve made it this far. 
That stalled manuscript taught me everything I needed to know about writing a book
That graduate school fail taught me to trust my gut because it knows that sometimes the imposter is not the one who’s trying to slow you down. Sometimes an opportunity isn’t a great fit, even if it feels like a dream come true.

Saying no isn’t the end of the world. There are always more opportunities down the road.  
Am I able to do this perfectly?

Hell no.

When I recognize I’ve reverted to the old way, I feel my feels and remember that seeing everything as an experiment is an experiment too. 
What would your life be like if you viewed everything as one grand experiment? 

What risks would you take? 
When would you allow yourself to say no? 
What would happen to your inner imposter? 
Send me an email. I’d love to know how your experiments are going. 
Or better yet, Tweet me your response with the hashtag #lessonsonfailure.

How the Imposter Syndrome Works to Keep You Small

How the Imposter Syndrome Works to Keep You Small

At 37 inches and 37 pounds, I was the second smallest kid in my first-grade class. The smallest was a kid we called Peanut—a boy so tiny, he’d drown in the shallow end of the pool. Everyone loved to ruffle Peanut’s hair. I loved his “old man” style, complete with plaid bell-bottoms, butterfly-colored shirts, and hair slicked down with Vitalis. 
Peanut was a sweet, old soul who appeared to like being small.
For a long time, I did too. 
Growing up in a rust-belt town where bad luck seemed like all we had, a small life with guarantees felt like my best option.
In early adulthood, I chose careers with certainty and sought out pensions that would carry me through retirement. It worked for a while, but in my family living small wasn’t just about paychecks. We stayed small because we feared someone would discover our flaws, or worse we’d try something hard then fail. 
Even when small felt safe, it had consequences. 
Watching people live the life I wanted left a bitter taste in my mouth. 
After a while, I believed I was weak, and felt trapped by my imposed limitations. 
Eventually, my body got on board. By thirty-five, I had developed three autoimmune diseases that zapped my energy. Then I contracted Lyme disease and that showed me how frail I had become. 
At the height of my Lyme days, I was underweight and jaundiced. My cold hands purpled with poor circulation. Every muscle and bone ached. I feared death was next.  

One day, I stared into a mirror and said, “If I’m dying, what have I got to lose?” 
I asked my husband to take a picture of me so I could remember this moment. 
Then I committed to living the life I really wanted.
While I thought Lyme might kill me, I was certain stretching myself would. 
Every time I tried something new, my mind said, “Stop! You can’t do this. Remember, you’re that poor kid with a subpar education and shitty grammar. And you’re sickly to boot. It’s only a matter of time before they find out what a loser you really are.” 
My heart raced. 

My stomach flip-flopped. 

My hands shook.

My body begged for me to stop.
When it felt like too much, I gave myself a hug and said, “Yeah, I know how hard this is.” Then I kept going.  
A few years later, my Lyme went into remission. As I had more energy, I took more chances. 
Instead of killing me, each effort made me stronger. 
And happier. 
Along the way, I learned the imposter syndrome is common among high-functioning, talented people who come from marginalized backgrounds. It’s also common in people who grew up in places where staying small was modeled. 
Not sure if that’s your story? 
Has anyone ever said:

  • “Who do you think you are?”
  • “Look who’s getting too big for their britches?”
  • “I guess you’re highfalutin now.”

 Growing up, variations on those phrases were slung at me any time I took risks. It was done not out of malice, but love. My parents and grandparents had always struggled, and they hoped that lowering my expectations would protect me from the disappointments life would surely bring. 

Now, I’m in the process of authoring something different. 
I hope you are too. 
If your imposter syndrome is keeping you small, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Where do those messages come from?
  • In what situations do you feel it the most?
  • How do you feel when you listen to that limiting voice?
  • What does it tell you?
  • What does it cost you?
  • What kind of life–and especially writing life–do you really want?

As Julia Cameron says, your dreams come from a divine place. Following them is an expression of the divine with you. 

Next week, I’m going to talk about the F word behind all of this small living.  
In the meantime, dream a little bigger and know that I’m cheering you on.

Pin It on Pinterest